November 2015 West Papua Report: TNI re-enters the village, fires and smoke, transmigration, Freeport, Melanesian gambit
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West Papua Report

This is the 138th in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). Back issues are posted online at Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at If you wish to receive the report directly via e-mail, write to Link to this issue:

The Report leads with PERSPECTIVE, an analysis piece; followed by UPDATE, a summary of some recent news and developments; and then CHRONICLE which includes analyses, statements, new resources, appeals and action alerts related to West Papua. Anyone interested in contributing a PERSPECTIVE or responding to one should write to We also welcome suggestions of resources and analysis for listing in the CHRONICLE section. The opinions expressed in Perspectives are the author's and not necessarily those of WPAT or ETAN. For ongoing news on West Papua subscribe to the reg.westpapua listserv or visit its archive; the list is also available on Twitter: .


This edition's Perspective discusses the implications for West Papua for the Indonesian military's continuing effort to re-involve itself in civilian affairs.

Update summarizes the grave problems of toxic smoke from massive fires set by palm oil plantation developers and others across the Indonesian archipelago. For the first time, fires are taking place on a large scale in West Papua. Transmigration continues to undermine West Papuans. The lack of Papuan involvement in the controversial plan to extend Freeport's mining concession in West Papua is raising concerns. The Indonesian government's Melanesian gambit meets resistance.

Chronicle announces two important new reports and calls attention to the special problems posed by military repression for Papuan women, We link to Democracy Now! coverage by  of President Widodo's visit to the U.S.  The Indonesian Press Council defends press freedom in West Papua. Maire Leadbetter sees hope for West Papua.


Indonesian Military "Re-Enters the Village:" Implications for West Papua
by Ed McWilliams and John M. Miller

TNI patrol


Indonesian soldiers in Paniai, December 2011.  Photo via

The Indonesian military, the TNI, could soon see its power greatly expanded by a Presidential decree now awaiting President Joko Widodo's signature. The decree would empower the TNI to assume the broad powers in the civilian sphere similar to those it exercised throughout the Suharto dictatorship. The plan was first presented publicly in December 2014 by Defense Minister Ryamizard. Many are concerned that the TNI is returning to pre-1998 reforms and the Suharto era concept of "ABRI Masuk Desa" (the military enters the village) see, West Papua Report for December 2014 . Under this concept, the military can spy on opposition elements and build political support for the regime down to village level.

The plan is part of a series of initiatives to expand TNI involvement in domestic affairs, including the signing of Memorandum of Understandings, and plans to enlist up to 100 million reservists (see below) and expand paramilitaries in border areas..

The plan would formally ending the ruse that the military is subordinate to a civilian defense minister. The draft decree would place the military directly under the President and raise the TNI to ministerial status. This change would formalize the removal of the defense minister from the chain of command and is a defeat for reformers who have struggled for years to make the military accountable to civilian authority.

"Granting the TNI an equal position to a ministry is a setback because it is against efforts to reform the military, , particularly in upholding the supremacy of civil society over the military."


In 2000, the TNI lost much of its authority when the National Police (POLRI) was granted sole authority to handle domestic security. Earlier, the police had separated from the TNI command structure. In addition to upending this key post-dictatorship reform, the new TNI mandate would violate a 2004 law requiring a formal request by the police or a presidential order before becoming involved in domestic security.

This reversion of the military's status to that of the New Order era of Suharto's dictatorship has roused human rights and democracy advocates. "Granting the TNI an equal position to a ministry is a setback because it is against efforts to reform the military, particularly in upholding the supremacy of civil society over the military," said Poengky Indarti of human rights watchdog Imparsial.

Throughout its existence, the military has remained unaccountable before civilian courts. The TNI has opposed legislative proposals to bring some soldiers who commit crimes against civilians courts, insisting on keeping the current law on military courts (Law No. 31/1997), where such crimes are left to military to investigate and try. Any trials that do take place usually lead to light sentences and rarely affect senior officers who may have ordered, directed, or tolerated lawless behavior by their troops. In West Papua, soldiers are rarely held accountable for human rights violations against civilians.

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The restoration of military power and reach into civilian society has dire implications for West Papua. For decades Papuans have pressed for the demilitarization of West Papua and its transformation of the region into a "land of peace."

This draft decree would further empower the military to assume, among other things, authority to deal with challenges to state authority. In West Papua, security forces, state intelligence and the judicial system have long intimidated and harassed peaceful political protest and particularly by those demanding for their right to self determination. Such intimidation can be expected to worsen as the military gain broadened powers in the civilian sphere.
Article 7 of the draft regulation would specifically grant to the TNI authority in areas that have been the purview of POLRI, such as terrorism, smuggling, and illegal drugs. Indonesian state authorities equate armed resistance to its authority as "terrorism," an expansion of the internationally accepted conception of terrorism that has led to harsh treatment of resistance elements and those civilians deemed sympathetic to them. (see February 2013 West Papua Report.)
Moreover, TNI would be given a freer hand to expand its operations in areas in which armed resistance elements have purportedly been active. "Sweeping operations" have displaced thousands of Papuan villagers, often forcing them into the mountains and jungles where the unavailability of food, medicine and shelter has led to sickness and death of hundreds.

The TNI - dominated by a large army - has long struggled to identify a security rational for maintaining its swollen ranks and its continued deployment down to the village level.


The TNI throughout the archipelago, but especially in West Papua, has long maintained legal and illegal business interests, notably in the area of logging. Its personnel also have long been engaged in drug and people trafficking, smuggling and extortion. Ironically, its new mandate would enable the TNI to replace the police in addressing trafficking and smuggling. The TNI has also frequently established relationships with corporations, purportedly providing security, but often as not acting as an enforcer for corporations facing resistance from indigenous people reluctant to part with their land. Notoriously, Freeport McMoRan has seen massive bribe taking by the TNI. The military would have an even freer hand under the new regulations.

The TNI -- dominated by a large army, with only a relatively small navy and air force-- has long struggled to identify a security rational for maintaining its swollen ranks and its continued deployment down to the village level. After the 1999 withdrawal from the now independent Timor-Leste after 24-years of occupation and the end to conflict in Aceh in 2005, the army could only point to the sputtering, small armed resistance in West Papua to justify the huge portion of the defense budget it commands.

MoUs and Conscription

In service of justifying its bloated presence, the TNI has been signing memorandums of understanding with other government agencies to expand its role in the civilian sphere.

The Jakarta Post recently listed some of these MoUs:

Besides agreements that allow military deployment to guard public infrastructure such as railway stations, harbors and airports, the list includes a deal with the Law and Human Rights Ministry to recruit former soldiers as prison guards and an agreement with the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) to involve the military in family planning programs.

TNI involvement with family planning clinics in West Papua will raise deep concerns among Papuans given credible claims of Indonesian government efforts to limit indigenous Papuan population growth.

Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) coordinator Haris Azhar questions the accountability of the TNI under the MoUs: "How can the public involve themselves with checking for misuse of power by the military as it carries out its work? Will soldiers be punished for abusing their authority?"
Under another initiative aimed deepening the militarization of Indonesia, the Jokowi government has proposed that the military train up to 100 million Indonesians. Training would take place throughout the country, in every "regiment military area (Rindam) or military battalion headquarters in every province," according to Defense Ministry director of state defense Commodore M Faizal. Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan says the conscription plan will highlight security threats such as narcotics and terrorism and instructors will come from "military, the police and other elements."

Dark Shadow

An Indonesian military operating under Suharto-era rules will cast a dark shadow across the Indonesian archipelago: Nowhere more so than in West Papua where access restrictions on journalists and other observers, genocidal transmigration policies (see below) and a culture of security force violence make West Papuans as among the most repressed peoples in Southeast Asia.


Dangers of Smoke from West Papua Fires

Radio New Zealand has reported that dozens of fire burning in West Papua, including in South Sorong, Fakfak, Mimika and Merauke, have blanketed much of the region with thick smoke/smog prompting authorities to advise people to wear face masks.

Annual fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan receive widespread attention for generating toxic smoke that jeopardizes the health of millions across large swaths of Southeast Asia. These fires and those now receiving attention in West Papua are most often a consequence of "developers" clearing land for palm oil plantations and other commercial agriculture ventures. Despite repeated pledges to do so, Indonesian authorities regularly fail to control these illegal fires. Greenpeace Southeast Asia identified 112,000 fires or "hotspots" throughout the archipelago from August 1 to October 26. Separately, the Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency's (BMKG) observed 92 fires in Merauke Regency and another 12 in Mappi regency as of mid-October.

West Papua haze


Clouds of smoke visible around the forest area of ​​Mount Wondiboy. Photo: Duma Sanda/Mongabay.

"One of the most worrying things is the fact that 10 percent of the hot spots were found in Papua. Fires of such a scale had not happened before in West Papua," according to Greenpeace Indonesia forest political campaigner Teguh Surya. "West Papua usually does not suffer from forest fires as the operation of palm oil concessions is still limited (there)."

Flights in several parts of West Papua, including in Jayapura, Manokwari and Timika, were canceled after visibility dropped to as little as 150 meters in places.-Twice Almost 80 percent of the smog in Manokwari was coming from fires in Merauke. The haze extended as far as Micronesia.

With the hot spots in Papua concentrated in Merauke, observers noted the correlation between the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) program in West Papua and the spread of hot spots in the province, according to Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner, Yuyun Indradi.

"The connection is clear. If you look at the map, the concentration of the hot spots in Merauke is in the MIFEE area," he said on October 29.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar instead blames nomadic people: "If the forests are burned and rain falls after that, grass will grow back and become green and animals will come. It will become hunting ground for nomadic groups. These aspects are being investigated by us," she recently said.

(WPAT Comment: Clearly the new factor as it relates to fires in the Merauke area is the MIFEE estate, the development of which has been given a new impetus by the Widodo administration. Indigenous peoples have been farming the area for centuries without the extensive fires now being observed.)

The fires in the Manokwari area pose a particular threat to the internationally known birds of paradise, or cenderawasih. The birds are indigenous to the region and are sensitive to the smoke. A local conservation body fears that the fires will either kill the birds or force them to migrate elsewhere.

International commentary has highlighted the fact that the archipelago-wide fires are in contravention of the Indonesian government commitments regarding the generation of greenhouse gases (especially CO2), as well as Indonesian law. Application of this international commitment and even Indonesian law in West Papua is in reality is negligible, allowing "developers" free rein.

Transmigration Threatens Papuans

Indonesian transmigration camp cut into the forests of West Papua


Indonesian transmigration camp cut out of the forests of West Papua Photo via Benny Wenda.

Lukas Enembe, governor of Indonesia's Papua province, one of two provinces that constitute the West Papua region, warns that indigenous Papuans "could disappear as a people if they remain marginalized in their own land." He called for an end to transmigration in its current form. The Governor's comments were reported by Radio New Zealand, which was recently allowed to visit the region.

Indigenous Papuans are becoming overwhelmed in their homeland by migrants. Many of them brought in by the Indonesian state's transmigration program which settles people from heavily-populated regions into less-crowded ones. The program has disrupted societies throughout the Indonesian archipelago, none more so than West Papua.

Enembe said that indigenous people struggle to compete economically with the migrants, adding transmigration creates social problems and dilutes Papuan culture. He called the latest transmigration program in Papua initiated by the Minister of Village, Rural Development and Transmigration Marwan Jafar a depopulation threat for indigenous Papua.

Naftali Tebai, Chair of Papua Highland Student Association in Indonesia (AMPTPI) for Eastern Indonesia Region, told Jubi, that transmigration is not only reducing the number of Papuans as a percentage of the region's population. Most important is the loss of (Papuan) cultural values. Papuans are losing their land rights. "The process of land conversion from sago forest which has been destroyed in favor of oil palm plantation amounted to extermination of this Papuan heritage plant in Papua."

WPAT Comment: Transmigration policies favor those being resettled into West Papua, often providing housing, tools and other advantages. Health, education and other basic services are made available to the new settlers but not to Papuans, particularly those living in more remote regions. In what appears to be another unfulfilled promise President Widodo committed in early June to ending transmigration to West Papua

Papuans Lack Input on Critical Freeport Mining Deal

Freeport hq  
West Papuan activists and local government officials are alarmed over the failure of the national government to involve them in critical talks on extending the contract of the U.S.-based PT Freeport McMoRan mining company beyond 2021.

Indonesian governments have long ignored input from the local Papuan community on matters raging from contract terms to the devastating environmental impact the mining operation. The company's gold and copper mining operations are Indonesia's largest revenue generator, but critics have long asserted that little of that wealth finds its way back to the Papuan people.

Offering historical perspective, the renowned human rights campaigner Carmel Budiardjo recently wrote:

"So this is precisely what the Indonesian government is doing by grabbing a high percentage of the profits from Freeport, a company that enjoys huge profits every single year and has been doing so since this money grabbing Indonesian government and it corrupt officials, many of them senior officers in Indonesian Army (TNI), granted Freeport the contract by the authoritarian President Suharto back in the seventies to exploit the phenomenally rich natural resources of West Papua without a care about how the vast majority of Papuans live in conditions of dire poverty."

Lamadi de Lamato, spokesman for Papuan Gov. Lukas Enembe, told UCANews that the provincial government was kept out of mine discussions. "We're so confused. Freeport actually is in Papua, but we were not invited to speak on this renewal plan. Our voice barely received attention," he said.

"The people of Papua have long swallowed the bitter pill of this company's presence. Trillions in money has been taken out, however the people of the area are destitute. Residents who scavenge for gold waste are shot."

Governor Enembe accused Freeport of lacking any intention to contribute to Papua’s development.

"Freeport has been operating since 1967, but what about Timika and how's Papuan condition right now? Infrastructures in Timika are still underdeveloped. The number of indigenous Papuan workers in Freeport is not equal with the number of non-Papuan workers. If it continues like this, Freeport is better leaving. Without it, Papuans will still survive," he said.

Father Neles Tebay, coordinator of the Papuan Peace Network, called for the contract to be suspended. "People in Papua, which have rights to the land, are not involved. Papuans, especially the Amungme tribe… feel that they are treated unfairly," he said. Freeport needs "a plan that provides economic benefits to Papua."

In addition to the Amungme, who live in the area occupied by the mining operation, the Kamoro, a coastal people, have long suffered the devastation of their traditional way of life through acid mine drainage and tailings poisoning of groundwater and shellfish and the destruction of large swaths of Sago Palm which is central to the Kamoro diet.

Victor Yeimo of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) says there should be no contract extension. "The people of Papua have long swallowed the bitter pill of this company's presence," he said. "Trillions in money has been taken out, however the people of the area are destitute. Residents who scavenge for gold waste are shot."

Jakarta's Melanesian Gambit to Block Papuan Freedom Aspirations

The formation of the Indonesian Melanesian Brotherhood in Ambon in early October, has drawn criticism from senior Papuan officials, local artists and NGOs. The brotherhood links five provinces that Jakarta argues have large Melanesian populations: Papua, West Papua, Maluku, North Maluku, and East Nusa Tenggara.

Lukas Enembe, governor of Papua province, described the brotherhood as a "gimmick" and a "political ploy." Enembe stayed away from the Ambon ceremony, as did the governors of Papua and North Maluku.

Enembe and others believe the initiative is meant to counter West Papuan diplomatic success in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), which earlier this year accepted a coalition of pro-independence West Papuan groups as an observer. The MSG also raised Indonesia to associate member, while stipulating that Indonesia should be represented by the governors of five provinces.

Enembe argues that he has no authority to speak about the foreign affairs: "I don’t have any interest to speak about politics or the international affairs as well because I have no right to talk about it. MSG is Jakarta’s concern, not mine. I don’t see this problem should involve the five provinces."

The Indonesian government organized a Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival held from October 26 to 30 in Kupang and plans a Melanesian Culture Study Center.

Official trailer for Tanah Mama.
Criticizing Jakarta's purported interest in Melanesians in the archipelago, Indonesian filmmaker Asrida Elisabeth withdrew her hour-long documentary “Tanah Mama” (“Mama’s Soil”) from the government-funded festival.

“The people of Papua can see that this [festival] is an attempt at diversion amid efforts to build solidarity in the Pacific region, where the Melanesian identity is the basis for the struggle for respect, protection and empowerment of the Papuan people,” Asrida said. “For the people of East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku and North Maluku, the Melanesian ‘identity’ has simply been thrust upon them by the state.


ICP Releases New Human Rights Report 2015 As we were finalizing this issue of the West Papua Report, two detailed reports on the region were released: Human Rights in West Papua 2015, from the International Coalition for Papua, collects research from 25 organisations and experts from in- and outside West Papua on the situation of human rights, indigenous peoples' rights, demographic trends, and conflict.

Human Rights Watch urged an end to restrictions on media access in a 75-page report:
Something to Hide?: Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua. The report "documents the government’s role in obstructing access to the provinces of Papua and West Papua" and the undermining by government officials of Jokowi’s announcement opening access to the region.
Cartoonist's depiction of Indonesian government restrictions on media freedom and rights monitoring in Papua. Copyright 2015 Toni Malakian for Human Rights Watch
Cartoonist's depiction of Indonesian government restrictions on media freedom and rights monitoring in Papua. Copyright 2015 Toni Malakian for Human Rights Watch.

 Problems Confronting Papuan Women

Rochelle Jones, with the Association of Women's Rights in Development (Awid), explored the weight of Indonesian repression on Papuan women in commentary in the Guardian. The analysis finds that Papuan women "have experienced and resisted violence along a trajectory of two distinct, but intertwined struggles: the struggle imposed on them by Indonesian occupation, and the struggle within their indigenous culture and society."

A study published in 2010 by a group of Papuan women (Enough is Enough! Testimonies of Papuan Women Victims of Violence and Human Rights Violations 1963-2009) documented patterns of violence. Jones concludes that "little has changed for West Papuan women" since.

Discussion Focuses on Human Rights Context for President Widodo's US Visit

The October 27 edition of the radio/TV program Democracy Now! considered Indonesian President Widodo's late October visit to the US in the context of human rights concerns. Host Amy Goodman interviewed John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, and veteran journalist Allan Nairn.

President Widodo canceled plans to meet with representatives of Freeport in Washington, DC and cut short his U.S. visit, he said, to deal with the haze crisis in northern Indonesia. The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) had planned demonstrations in DC outside the Freeport meeting and at the computer museum in Mountain View, CA, where Widodo was slated to speak to Silicon Valley corporate executives. ETAN also collected more than 3400 signatures on a petition urging President Obama to "support an end to human rights violations in the provinces of Papua and West Papua" by conditioning security assistance on concrete improvements in the situation.

An Appeal for Press Freedom in West Papua

The Indonesian Press Council issued a call for press freedom in West Papua, according to its chair, Bagir Mana. He said that the post-Suharto law establishing media freedom applied to the whole country.

Hope for West Papua

Veteran activist Maire Leadbeater detects "A glimmer of hope for West Papua?" Writing in the New Zealand Herald, she praises the "taro-roots" organizing throughout West Papua and the Pacific that led to the grant of observer status to United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) by the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and the commitment by the Pacific Islands Forum to work with Indonesia to send a fact-finding mission to the territory. Leaders of the Solomon Islands and Tonga spoke out at the UN General Assembly. She criticized the refusal of New Zealand officials to support these initiatives. "Foreign Minister Murray McCully dismissed the value of a regional West Papua fact-finding mission even before he arrived at the Pacific Forum summit." she writes, adding "Apparently good relations with Indonesia and our defence and trade ties trump human rights."

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